Back when I was a humongous fan of Archie comics, there was an attempt to make the brand more hip, maybe even attract more male readers (I’m sure I was a real rarity in being a boy who preferred Riverdale to Gotham City). The publisher introduced a bunch of sci-fi-themed series like Jughead’s Time Police, Dilton’s Strange Science, Explorers of the Unknown and the future-set Archie 3000. They were more cheesy than cool and didn’t last very long. More than 20 years later, Archie has abandoned the Comics Code Authority (they were the last holdout) and are even doing stuff aimed at more mature readers, such as the popular, audience-expanding zombie-based book Afterlife of Archie. Now the New York Times reports that the princess of hipness, Lena Dunham, will be writing a four-issue Archie miniseries to release in 2015.
Dunham is the latest in a not-so-new trend of comic book publishers bringing on movie and TV talent for creative assignments. It’s an interesting move in general, not that unlike the way TV has itself pilfered filmmakers to become a stronger, more talked-about medium (Dunham, having started Girls following the acclaim of her feature film Tiny Furniture, fits that drift, as well). But for the most part, with comic books it’s been superhero titles being written by people associated with superhero movies (or in the case of Bryan Singer’s announced but never produced work on X-Men comics, meant to be written) — even Kevin Smith, whose movies have involved more characters who read comics than derive from them, penned a Superman movie script before venturing to the pages of Daredevil and Batman.
I had no idea of Dunham’s affinity for Archie and the gang before yesterday’s article announcing her project along with the news that Afterlife writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (also a vet from TV, specifically Big Love and Glee, and films, including the Carrie remake) is the new Chief Creative Officer of Archie Comics, though it apparently came out last fall (she even own Archie #1 and used to attend conventions devoted to the characters). And the first thought might be that her mini-series will also be something for mature readers. After all, her show features a ton of adult situations and material. Young Archie readers probably shouldn’t be familiar enough with her work to be excited, and fans of Dunham probably won’t be interested in her doing anything too tame. But it’s not like she’s going to blur the lines further between Betty Cooper and x-rated lookalike Cherry Poptart.
On the Archie Comics site, Aguirre-Sacasa says Dunham’s take, which reportedly involves a reality series filming in Riverdale, is “funny and real and contemporary,” meaning it probably will be somewhat like her movies and TV series only maybe without the sex and nudity — I presume. Imagine what that mature yet not mature sensibility would be like and you could easily correlate it to something like Pitch Perfect, which was just chaste enough for teens without belittling their sophistication. That movie’s director, Jason Moore, has already been hired to do a live-action Archie movie, and between these two developments it becoming clear where the brand is going. Aguirre-Sacasa’s new job tasks him with bringing the Archie characters to TV and movie screens, and he told The Hollywood Reporter he wants Riverdale depicted “in an American Beauty kind of way.”
Never mind your thoughts on that Best Picture winner, you have to agree that it’s not of the innocent tone the Archie brand has been associated with for 75 years. The new COO implies that we could wind up with varied sorts of adaptations, though, from a safer teen TV drama compared to My So-Called Life and The Wonder Years to horror flicks like one rumored based on Afterlife and possibly down the line a movie of Sabrina the Teen Witch, a property he’s already taking to darker, bloodier territory. Aguirre-Sacasa is clearly a movie buff, so when he describes what this 1960s set comic series will be like, he references Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and The Little Girl Who Lived Down the Lane. This is the same guy, of course, who just turned American Psycho into a stage musical and wrote the upcoming remake of The Town That Dreaded Sundown.
And this collaboration with Dunham shows that he’s interested in working with quality — and clever — creative voices, no matter that the circumstances are hard to pinpoint more as being fortunate that she also was an Archie fan or being beneficial that she also is a great writer (what if, say, Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer had been the ones to express love for the property?). Additionally I love that Aguirre-Sacasa’s franchise planning is less Marvel Studios style and more like what’s being done with DC (appropriate since the Archie movie is similarly set up at Warner Bros.), which may allow for more freedom with independent visions so that we can have, say, a more faithful Archie teen movie and an unrelated Archie zombie movie nearly simultaneously. I doubt that will happen, because it could confuse audiences, but I’d love to see them try.
Meanwhile, perhaps Dunham’s venture into comic books could inspire other publishers and filmmakers to team up. How about Harvey Comics just scoops up every screenwriter and director associated with You’re Next (that includes Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard as well as those acting in the movie, including Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, Ti West and/or Larry Fessenden) to deliver their fresh, mature takes on such properties as Casper, Richie Rich and Hot Stuff the Little Devil? No need to pay me a finder’s fee for that idea, either, as it simply happening would be worth a million bucks to me.
Check out a Girls-homaging promo for the comic by Dan Parent: